Scale your technology to fit small manufacturing teams

It’s the 30% of nonstandard processes, unique to your company, that you need to manage more effectively. And this is where the difference between configuration and customization becomes glaringly apparent.
By Lori Payne March 5, 2015

Operations leaders at small and mid-sized manufacturing companies (SMBs) have no shortage of stress. Much of the burden of bringing in jobs on-time and on-budget falls on you, which explains the thirst for visibility and hawkish attention to detail regarding everything on the shop floor

Technology providers offer many solutions to remedy this stress. Technology can fix the problems that give you headaches, slow down your team, and endanger profitability. For example, many software solutions can unify all your systems and eliminate processes that require double entry, which duplicates effort and increases the risk of manual entry error. A single system for the entire operation means someone on the floor can flag a job as complete, signal the next team member to action, and automatically document the process.

With everybody on the team seeing the same version of events, planning becomes more accurate as time and materials are recorded into the core system and production leaders are alerted as they approach budget and material thresholds. The result? Fewer rush jobs, fewer unplanned gaps in production, and a more efficient operation overall—efficiency that is the key to profitability.

This is all good news for the operations chief. Many software solutions offer the end-to-end visibility and seamlessness that you need to contribute to efficiency and the bottom line. However, not all of them will get used as intended, even if their high-level functionality sounded like exactly what you needed.

But beware, as small/mid-sized manufacturing ERP software is almost always created with massive enterprises in mind. There are two dangers to this: One is that you’ll get a “feature overkill” system that is too hard to learn and is a pain to train your team on. Another is that the existing functionality may assume too much about the way your team members need to work, which straitjackets your process. In either case, it means under-adopted or underutilized software—which is a huge waste all its own.

One of the first questions you should ask as you evaluate software is, “How can the system respond to the unique way my team works?” After all, if nobody uses it, you’ve wasted time and money. If your team uses it but can’t configure it to work the way you need them to, it’s the same scenario. One of the most important capabilities is configuration, which will allow even nontechnical users to modify the application to mirror your workflow without the cost and complexity of writing and maintaining software code.

This seemingly simple, yet powerfully true requirement cannot be overstated. And to solidify the point, it heeds a bit of further explanation.

Manufacturing ERP solutions typically come with the “standard” off-the-shelf capability that is required to cover about 70% of your business needs. While those features and functions will help you run your SMB manufacturing facility, they are missing the key to your competitive advantage.

It’s the 30% of nonstandard processes, unique to your company, that you need to manage more effectively. And this is where the difference between configuration and customization becomes glaringly apparent. Sure, adding a custom field or table is great. But what you really need in your software is to add a new process or to change the process flow. Only a configurable Cloud manufacturing ERP solution will allow you to do this, without breaking the base functionality of your solution.

For operations leaders at SMB manufacturing companies, your technology has a huge impact on how you can deliver. One of the ways to ensure a wise choice is to look for a system that can work the way your team wants it to work without burdening your company with unnecessary cost and complexity.

As you seek ways to improve performance, it is important to determine if the solution you’re evaluating is configurable and if so, at what cost. If the answer is it’s not or that configuration can only be done by the vendor, maybe it’s time to eliminate that software from the running.

Lori Payne is vice president, manufacturing development at KeyedIn Solutions, Inc.